Community celebrates groundbreaking of Rondo Commemorative Plaza

Changes are coming to the Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul that was split apart decades ago by a major highway.

At one point, the Rondo neighborhood was home to 85 percent of St. Paul's African-American community. Now, one-time residents are finding common ground to remember it.

“St. Paul wasn't always hospitable as it was to the African-American community,” said Marvin Anderson, co-founder of Rondo Avenue Inc.

Anderson grew up in St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood, which for decades was the heart and soul of the city's African American community, until the ‘60s when the construction of I-94 cut the neighborhood in half, displacing many of the residents in the process.

“The total disruption it caused in terms of taking the business community apart and separating the cultural institutions and providing no bridge between the two was potentially devastating,” said Dr David Taylor, a historian.

Now the sons and daughters of Rondo are breaking ground for a new pocket park on the site of the last two-story building from the original Rondo neighborhood that was destroyed by a fire two years ago.

"A year ago, I had the opportunity to apologize for something that happened 50 years ago," said Charles Zelle, the Minnesota Commissioner of Transportation.

The Rondo Commemorative Plaza at Concordia and Fisk will have a history wall, wind chimes with the names of Rondo residents and a 30-foot tall marker that will be visible from the highway next door.

“We need to know where we came from to understand where were are going and where we are right now,” said Floyd Smaller, co-founder of Rondo Avenue Inc.

Anderson believes having a place to remember the past will help make a better future.

“It’s small but it’s going to play a huge role in connecting our community,” he said.